Northern Ireland

Titanic building may face long term financial concerns

A government report has questioned the financial viability of two key tourism projects In Northern Ireland.

The Audit Office said it was doubtful whether the Titanic Signature Building would break even in the long term.

The £77m development is due to open in 2012, in time for the centenary of the sinking of the ship.

The report has also raised concerns over the new Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre because of a difficulty in predicting tourism numbers.

It is estimated that the Titanic building in Belfast will need 290,000 visitors a year to break even.

But the government spending watchdog has cast doubt over the long term success of the project, despite it being the largest single tourism project undertaken in Northern Ireland.

The report accepts indications that the attraction will be popular initially but there is doubt it will consistently reach or exceed the numbers required for years to come.

It also said that the value-for-money of the building is currently open to question.

The Audit Office measured the potential performance of the building by looking at the money spent divided by the number of visitors it will attract.

Using this method, the report concluded that the building was likely to be more expensive than some of the leading tourist attractions in the world, including Disneyland in Paris, the Guggenheim in Bilbao and the London Eye.

University of Ulster economist Mike Smyth has said he thought it was "far too premature" to say the Titanic building project would not be value-for-money.

"We don't know what the likely tourism numbers will be from the Far East in the coming decades," he added.

"We keep talking glibly about the changing geopolitical and economic power blocs eastwards and south.

"These people, when they become very wealthy, will become the tourists of tomorrow.

"The key thing here is the brand, the Titanic brand is one of the most valuable in the world and the more fundamental question for me is can we in Northern Ireland finally start to leverage it?"

The new visitors centre at the Giants Causeway is due to open in June and the Tourist Board has invested £9m in it.

The auditors said that to cover its costs the visitors centre needs to bring in £1.6m a year. This includes the cost of running the building but also money to be spent on conservation of the site and supporting tourism development in the area.

The Department of Enterprise and the Tourist Board said their financial predictions for the building are robust but the auditors believe there remains a risk that it will not achieve financial sustainability and that risk will need to be monitored carefully.

More on this story